Advisory votes may cost Washington taxpayers $240,000

Votes are result of initiative approved in 2007



OLYMPIA — Five nonbinding advisory votes on tax policies that have already become law could cost taxpayers $240,000 this year, according to a recent estimate by the Secretary of State’s office.

The votes are a result of an initiative approved in 2007 that sends any action by the Legislature deemed a tax increase to the November ballot.

Last year, there were two advisory votes that cost just over $100,000 due the number of pages in the voter’s guide to explain them. This year, five new taxes will be described in the pamphlet, and officials say it could cost $240,000 because, if the format remains the same, each tax policy would get four pages in the voters’ pamphlet, according to David Ammons, spokesman for the office.

State officials are required to provide voters with details about each policy, how each lawmaker voted, and how to contact each of them. Of the four pages each policy would get, three of them would be taken up by lawmaker contact information. Ammons said Tuesday that officials are trying to find a cheaper format.

“It is a lot of money,” said Tami Davis, the office’s voter education and outreach manager. “Especially for the outcome … because there is no outcome.”

Items voters will weigh in on include a change in the estate tax, elimination of a tax break for home-phone service, and minor shifts in taxes affecting commuter air carriers, property assessments and insurance. The laws, however, will remain regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Supporters said that the money spent for advisory votes is worth it.

“It’s chump change to the voters who have decided that they want this information,” said Tim Eyman, a professional initiative promoter who sponsored Initiative 960, which mandates the advisory votes. Eyman says that the votes, while nonbinding, have a “lobbying effect” on lawmakers.

House Democratic budget writer Ross Hunter said the votes are “not a worthwhile expenditure” and noted that the pamphlet does not include information about how the taxes will be spent.

“I think the voters elect people to make complicated decisions,” he said. “And if they don’t like it, I think the appropriate response is, well, I think they should pick a different legislator.”